If you've ever wondered if there's a science behind what makes a scary movie scary, then we have good news for you. A UK study from Broadband Choices applies a scientific approach to ranking the scariest movies of all time. This in-depth study tracked the heart rates of 50 participants viewing over 120 hours of horror films in immersive 5.1 surround sound. The study showed that while a resting heart rate is 65 bpm, the scariest film caused an average heart rate of 86 bpm and a spike of 131 bpm.
The results of the study were surprising in some cases. Horror films ranging from gore fests to psychological thrillers were deemed to equally get hearts racing, while favorites like Friday the 13th and The Grudge didn't even crack the study's top 20 scariest films.
Below, we'll show you which films are scientifically shown to get your heart pumping, and you can decide which ones scared you the most.
- Photo: Warner Bros.
Rather than relying on jump scares, The Exorcist is consistently creepy and dread-soaked throughout the entire film. Scenes like Regan defiling a religious symbol and turning her head all the way around keep viewers' heart rates at a steady 77 bpm.
The highest spike occurs during the extended and purposefully repetitive exorcism itself, with heart rates reaching 92 bpm.
Average Heart Rate: 77
Highest Spike: 92As scary as the science suggests?
- Photo: Summit Entertainment
According to the study, Sinister is the most pulse-pounding of all the films shown, inspiring an average heart rate of 86 bpm. A number of jump scares and some disturbing gore are packed into the story of a true-crime writer who discovers mysterious Super 8 reels in the attic of his family's new home and attempts to uncover the mystery of a creepy figure appearing in all of the footage.
The biggest scare comes when the writer watches one of these videos using a projector. In it, an unseen person mows the lawn at night using a small light to guide the way. Suddenly, the darkened screen bursts into color as a tied-up family member meets the business end of the lawnmower, raising heart rates all the way to 131 bpm.
Talk about the jump scare of a lifetime.
Average Heart Rate: 86
Highest Spike: 131As scary as the science suggests?
- Photo: Warner Bros.
The Conjuring recounts the chilling true story of the Perron family, who call in '70s paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren on account of evil spirits in their Rhode Island farmhouse.
The most frightening scene in the film: when one of the children thinks the spirit of Bathsheba is hiding in her wardrobe. Flinging open the doors, there's nothing in the wardrobe but clothes. It's only when the two Perron daughters look up that they see Bathsheba crouching on top of the wardrobe, ready to attack.
Average Heart Rate: 84
Highest Spike: 129As scary as the science suggests?
- Photo: Pathé Distribution
A rare entry in the sub-subgenre of spelunking horror. As if being trapped deep underground weren't horrifying enough, The Descent has no shortage of jump scares to keep the viewer squirming in their seat. Arguably the scariest moment in the film is the first glimpse of the subterranean carnivores known as Crawlers. Even before they become violent, there's something so disturbing about the way Crawlers look that viewers won't easily forget them. Then, of course, they do become violent.
Average Heart Rate: 79
Highest Spike: 122As scary as the science suggests?